Organizational culture, norms and modern warfare

Project Leader

Erik Noreen, Associate Professor

Project period


Other Project Employees

Jan Ångström (2011-2013)

Robert Egnell (2011-2013)

Project Description

During the last twenty years there are two parallel developments that have fundamentally shaken the conditions of military power. The strategic context has been rapidly changing since the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the war in Afghanistan from 2001, Iraq from 2003, and the Russian invasions and interventions of former Soviet republics are all events that are forcing military organizations to continually adapt and change. The greatest threat in today's context is no longer the contradiction between rival great powers, but rather one of weak and failing states. As the strategic context has changed, also the political goals concerning military use of force have shifted. The clear missions during the Cold War - the invasion defense, and limited participation in international peace support operations – led to relatively predictable organizational and doctrinal implications of defense and security policy orientations.

Today military means are used to achieve a wide range of complex policy objectives - state-building, democratization, economic development etc. This leads not only to a series of new task for military organizations, but also an increased complexity of the planning processes, as the military effects clearly becomes linked to political objectives beyond military capacity. How should military organizations best respond to these threats?

A challenge for the military organization, professionals and staff regards the redefinition of the profession's self-perception. Two different systems of norms are central. Constitutive norms express who we want to be, while the regulative norms express what behavior is desirable. After the Cold War, some argue that change-related conflict patterns and altered forms of Western military involvement raises issues relating to the heart of how we traditionally have perceived the military organization's identity, whereas traditional concepts on how to achieve political goals with military force has been questioned.

Should the military profession include more than the ability to lead battles? Are large-scale decisive battles a relevant way of achieving policy objectives in today's context? Current debates about the composition of forces, military efficiency, new operation types and forms of organization are all signs of fundamental shifts in the military system of norms and of fundamental importance to understand. How should we understand the military profession and how do they affect the military organization's view of themselves? What is the relationship between the changing strategic context and the creation and re-creation of the military organization and the profession's self-image?

Selected Publications (2012-2016)

Noreen, Erik with Roxanna Sjöstedt and Jan Ångström (forthcoming) “Why Small States Join Big Wars: The Case of Sweden in Afghanistan 2002-2014”, International Relations

Noreen, Erik with Jan Ångström (2016) “Swedish Strategy and the Afghan Experience: From Neutrality to Ambiguity”, in Arita Holmberg & Jan Hallenberg (eds.) The Swedish Presence in Afghanistan: A New National Identity and Transformation of the Security and Defence Field. (Aldershot: Ashgate)

Noreen, Erik & Jan Ångstrom (2015) ”A Catch-All Strategic Narrative: Target Audiences and Swedish Troop Contribution to ISAF in Afghanistan”, in Beatrice de Graaf, Georges Dimitriu & Jens Ringsmose (eds.) Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion, and War: Winning Support for Foreign Military Missions (London: Routledge).

Noreen, E. (2013) “What did we learn from Afghanistan? Swedish experiences from a decade long mission within ISAF.”  Paper presented at the International Studies Association Convention in San Francisco, April 2013.

Angstrom, Jan (2013) “The Changing Norms of Civil and Military and Civil-Military Relations Theory”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(2): 224–236.

Egnell, Robert (2013) “A Western Insurgency in Afghanistan”, Joint Forces Quarterly, 70(3): 8-14.

Egnell, Robert (2013) “Women in Battle: Gender Perspectives and Fighting” Parameters 43(2): 33-41.

Egnell, Robert (2013) “Civil–military coordination for operational effectiveness: Towards a measured approach”, Small Wars & Insurgencies 24(2): 237-256.

Ångström, J. & JW Honig (2012) "Regaining Strategy: Small Powers, Strategic Culture and Escalation in Afghanistan", Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 35, no. 5, pp. 663-688.

Main Financial Support

Swedish Armed Forces